FRANKFORT — The regularly scheduled column wrapping up a General Assembly session in which Kentucky lawmakers proved surprisingly productive (if you grade productivity on the very low curve they established in recent sessions) will not be seen in this space today. It was overtaken by events in a couple of neighboring states where Republican governors and lawmakers have been learning a Sunday school lesson about the difficulty one has in trying to serve two masters.
Hoping to throw red meat to the homophobes in their party's ultra-right base, Republican-controlled legislatures in Indiana and Arkansas recently passed so-called religious freedom bills overtly designed to allow businesses to treat the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community the same way lunch counters in the Deep South treated the black community 60-plus years ago.
Sure, proponents of the measures argue they simply mirror a religious freedom law overwhelmingly passed by Congress and signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton more than 20 years ago. But a stockyard the size of Siberia couldn't hold that much bull. Arguably (although I still need some convincing), the federal law actually protects religious freedom. Inarguably, the Indiana and Arkansas bills protected religious bigotry.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the bill his state's lawmakers passed, and defended it vigorously until all the bull in that Siberian stockyard hit the oscillating cooling device and blew back on him. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he would sign his state's bill, too, but backed off after seeing how costly Pence's cleaning expenses would be.
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It seems the money changers in the corporate temples who finance Republican politicians looked at the $850-billion LGBT buying power and decided bigotry might not be a good idea for bottom lines, particularly when talk of boycotts, cancellations, postponed business expansions and relocation of employees to other states raised the specter of turning Indianapolis into "Indianoplace" and Little Rock into "Micro Pebble."
Notably, the money changers worried about bigotry-induced declining profits included the Indianapolis-based NCAA (which is holding its biggest shindig of the year in the city this weekend, but suggested it might have qualms about doing so again) and Arkansas-based Wal-Mart (when Wal-Mart suffers gastric distress, Arkansas takes an enema).
Faced with a choice between placating the wingnut voters who helped elect them or the money changers who bought those wingnut votes, Republican governors and lawmakers in both states did what they always do. They danced to the puppet strings of their corporate owners and operators.
Don't get me wrong. I love the outcome in both states. I particularly love the irony in the prospect of LGBT-bashing legislation morphing into laws guaranteeing anti-discrimination protection for the community.
But the bigger irony here is the bigoted religious wingnuts never get it. They never get the fact the world is passing them by while they continue living in the Stone Age. Perhaps more important, they never get the fact they are conned in every election by Republican politicians who tell them what they want to hear but always sell out at the first opportunity to the money changers.
In Kentucky, the flap over discriminatory religious freedom laws has prompted some criticism of flip-flopping by Gov. Steve Beshear, who vetoed state legislation similar to the federal law in 2013 (a veto overridden by lawmakers) but subsequently hired outside lawyers to defend the state's ban on same-sex marriage after Attorney General Jack Conway declined to appeal a federal judge's ruling that the ban was unconstitutional. Beshear's hired guns have made some embarrassing arguments in support of the ban, none more so than one similar to the argument against interracial marriage the U.S. Supreme Court rejected nearly 40 years ago.
But the real context for Beshear's appeal of the same-sex marriage ruling goes beyond his 2013 veto. In the early months of his first term, he issued a 2008 executive order barring state officials from making personnel decisions on the basis of sexual orientation. Democratic former Gov. Paul Patton issued a similar order in 2003, but Republican former Gov. Ernie Fletcher then rescinded those protections.
Beshear stood tall for gay rights in 2008, perhaps even more than by vetoing the 2013 bill. Now, he's defending Kentucky's ban on same-sex marriage? What's changed? Well, his son Andy Beshear is running for attorney general in an increasingly red state. Enough said?
Reach Larry Dale Keeling at firstname.lastname@example.org